Don’t Cell Your Soul


When I was in my teens and worked for other people—as a cashier, a desk clerk, a server, a bartender—we were not allowed to take personal calls at work. It was logical and no one seemed to have a reason to contest this; we were on company time. If things got slow they found something for us to do, or a good employee would seek out duties, even ask what could be done.

The cashier who took my order here at Panera has already pulled her phone out of her back pocket and checked her messages a dozen times—between customers usually, but twice while customers were looking at the selections. I am sure she washes her hands after using the restroom; but clearly not after using her phone. The woman cleaning the booths has stopped after wiping down each bench to read her phone and text someone, one time so engrossed in the message a customer who could not pass had to ask her twice to move to the side.

According to research by OpenMarket, 83% of millennials open their text messages within a minute and a half of receiving them, even when working. And according to Pew Research Center, 18-24 year old’s send an average of 3200 text messages a month. And the price is high: a study by Florida State University found that after receiving a phone call or text message, workers’ mistakes increased between 23 and 28 percent. The number one productivity killer at work is the cell phone, and the back pocket distraction kills an average of eight work hours a week—that’s the equivalent of paying someone an entire day’s wages to do nothing but check the phone.

I can’t fathom why they can’t be made to leave them in their cars or a break-room locker. If there is an emergency, people are certain to know where these tech-dependent minions work and can call the place directly; no boss is going to divert an emergency phone call. If it isn’t, then who would want someone like that working for them? Someone who doesn’t keep their attention 100 percent on work; someone who is thinking about something else one quarter of the time; someone who gets paid an entire day’s wages for being on the phone.

But that’s the bosses’ problem. Whatever, right? Sure, costs will probably creep up and service has certainly suffered, but we are welcome to patronize a place with sharper management practices.

The real problem is the inability to accept quiet. Their brainwaves are always operating at a heightened pace, causing stress, inattention, and long-term health problems. They are losing the ability to accept and be immersed by peace. Peace of mind, peace of spirit, and peace of soul.

Yes. Peace of soul. The practice of walking in silence from class to class or work to the car or store to store and any point a to any point b has faded. And according to more than a few studies, it is during those moments—not the extended sleep at night or the hour-long yoga class—when true peace of mind, rest, de-stressing, takes place, like small reboots throughout the day. But if the buds are always in, or the pocket is in a constant state of vibration, those quick shots of a settled soul no longer exist and the body adjusts to a heightened state of stress it doesn’t even realize is unhealthy.

“But there might be an emergency!” my students told me when we discussed this in a critical thinking class. And right there I understood the problem and I understood the president’s ability to convince his followers that we have an emergency on the southern border: they have redefined what constitutes an “emergency.” For my students, their absolute need to know what the plans are, what’s for dinner, where they’re going to meet later, and a plethora information that could easily be obtained later when not at work or school or peeing, is a dire emergency. They will absolutely not be able to concentrate if their Pavlov-proven-right minds aren’t relieved of the larger stress of knowing someone is paying attention to them but not knowing why. And this mentality has given social permission to the president to take what used to be an emergency—earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, terrorist attacks—and redefine it to be something as benign as a group of minorities without food and in relatively poor health crossing the border on foot. For a racist, a person of color is an “emergency.”

Few examples exist anymore of leaders who are laid back and put things in perspective. It is true that it is never the situation, but how we handle the situation that determines our character.

Worse, there is no “now” now. The phone by invention links us to somewhere else and what was and what will be. The loss is greater than the lost pay, and greater than the distraction holding people up in the aisle; it is the sacrifice of presence. It is not noticing the elder couple in the corner who are laughing and enjoying their lunch. It is not noticing the way the storm clouds broke, the way the steam rises from the pavement from the rain heated by the breaking sun. It is the inability to practice yesterday’s norm of being present.

The guy at the computer trying to order lunch needs help. The green tea machine is almost empty. Two tables within eyeshot have dirty dishes and no customers.

The daffodils are in full bloom and the blossoms on the pear trees too are in full bloom. There’s a hint of salt in the air from the ocean, and a flock of robins has gathered under the crepe myrtle on a grassy spot in the parking lot.

The cell phone is a brilliant device I use often to communicate with friends and family, to keep up to date on virtually everything going on in my life. But it is unsettling to the soul


2 thoughts on “Don’t Cell Your Soul

  1. My daughter works in a job where she must, by law, leave her cell phone in the car while at work. The pay is excellent, but very few young people have applied to work in that environment.

    Liked by 1 person

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